Garden Explosion

So I went off to Alaska for two weeks on my honeymoon, and it was all very nice and there were whales and fjords and it kinda burned out the Awe and Majesty centers of my brain.

Then I came back. To my garden. Which is more “Shock and Awe” than “Awe and Majesty.”

It turns out if you leave a garden alone for two weeks in June when they are having eighty degree days and more or less daily rain, you will return to a jungle. The Boltonia is eight feet tall, the Rattlesnake Master is six feet tall (why did I plant it at the front of the border?) and there are Agastache foeniculum seedlings—were seedlings—well, the point is that they’re three feet high now and all through my flowerbed and I swear they weren’t there when I left.

The parent plant being eight feet tall, I can’t complain too much. (Yes. It is an eight-foot Agastache. A white one. I have never fertilized it in my life. It appears to come true from seed and if I were more ambitious, I would declare it a new cultivar and name it “Yeti.”)

The beans. Oh, the beans. Last year I got the bright idea of putting a metal arch in the garden and training tomatoes up one side. Looks fabulous, works great. Tons of tomatoes. Figured that there wasn’t space for tomatoes on the other side, but I could put in a couple of Rattlesnake Pole Beans. When I left, they were sturdy, five foot plants—not terribly leafy, but vigorous.

When I came back…well.


Can you see an arch in there? No? Neither can anyone else.

And this is the cleaned up version! I had to prune half the tomato just to be able to use the sidewalk. I hold out hopes for the beans, though.

The rest of the vegetable bed went mad as well. Just…green. Walls of it. Somewhere in there are tomatoes and beets and cucumbers (oh god, so many cucumbers) and runner beans and walking onion.

Also, it turns out that the only thing keeping my neatly mulched paths from reverting to wilderness was constant foot traffic. Given greenhouse-like conditions and heavy moisture, a large swath has gone to goosegrass and the only thing that kept it from being a larger swath was the patch that went to smartweed.

Oh, the smartweed. I rue the day I looked it up and thought “Oh, native. And a food source for ducks! That’s nice. I’ll leave that patch back there and just tidy it up around the edges.” I could have paved a super-highway to perdition with those good intentions.

Smartweed aside, it’s not that the garden did anything particularly astonishing, it’s just that I wasn’t around to get used to it. When I left, there were a few timid flowers starting on the anise hyssop.

When I returned…


The coneflower weren’t even THINKING about blooming when I left. Neither was the Culver’s root. The bee balm certainly wasn’t. The yarrow had a few greenish flower-heads. And I walked back into this…mass. There are coneflowers in shocking colors. The Hypericum buckleii, which I was using as a ground cover, turns out to suddenly throw ten-inch masses of leaves and teeny little flowers. (A lovely and endangered native St. John’s wort of the Carolina mountains, now thankfully in cultivation. I’m glad it’s happy, but it’s not very ground-cover-ish behavior and I may need to rethink the enthusiasm with which I’ve been slopping it around.)

My response to all this unexpected glory is a combination of giggling and tearing my hair out. There are so many weeds and so much mulching that has to be done (and I am traveling again almost immediately and will get almost none of that actually done!) There are so many vegetables that need to be harvested. There are ripe tomatoes and beets that have probably turned to wood and I am picking cucumbers with both hands and I don’t dare look too closely at the crookneck squash because it’s going to be TERRIFYING. My cilantro has all gone to coriander, which is fine, and the onions have all gone to seed, which is confusing.

And yet, it is so fantastic out there. It is doing the lush-cottage-garden thing in the front yard, just like I always wanted, and the side and back yards will catch up in a year or two. (Honestly, if it were more lush back there, I wouldn’t notice the weeds. There are probably plenty of weeds up front, I’m just not seeing them because of the masses of perennials. Bare ground is the bane of the lazy gardener.)

There are bees climbing the coneflower and the St. John’s wort and absolutely wallowing on the Agastache. Big native bees clamber through the cucumber blossoms (which I thought weren’t even pollinated by bees) and buzz around the basil. (I have never found my basil turning bitter due to flowering. Possibly I’m just a Philistine.) Butterflies puddle on the paths and on stones and lick sap from the trees. The resident lawn crayfish sulks in his burrow and when I poke a stick in it, for old time’s sake, he latches on to the end and yanks.

Whales are marvelous and fjords are pretty damn spectacular and I could retire to Victoria, BC with very little provocation, but there’s nothing quite like coming home to your own garden. No matter what’s happened to the beans.

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  1. Karen says

    If you have any friends with chickens, chickens LOVE cucumbers. And overripe tomatoes. And beans. Well, you get the idea.

  2. says

    Ursula, I’m glad I discovered your cool blog thanks to Gail. I am a fairly new transplant to the NC mountains from the Eastern Shore of MD. During a month-long trip to England one summer I came home to some ugly garden surprises. I wrote about it earlier this month if you’d care to take a look.

    And congratulations on your recent marriage. I’ll look forward to reading more of your postings. Cheers! Lynn

  3. Carole says

    How wonderful to have had Mother Nature care for your garden while you were away.
    Wishing you a future filled with sunshine, rain, and abundance.

  4. Susan says

    I think that the only time gardeners (in my part of the country–Midwest– anyway) can go on vacation is the middle of winter. Every other time there is something that one should be doing in the garden or for the garden….

  5. michele says

    Congratulations! Wishing you many happy &productive years together…you may wish to update your bio, though. Thanks for the article, I was craving an Ursula experience. Can’t get enough!


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